Right Attitude to approach Aptitude tests

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    Aptitude tests are everywhere! Love them or Hate them, we cannot ignore them anymore. They are used for pre-screening in technical education, administrative services, management courses, job recruitment, banking sector and the list goes on…. Aptitude test helps to assess candidate’s learning capabilities and will provide indicators to predict how well a candidate can contribute in a given role. Aptitude test can be our best friend or worst enemy, depending on how we approach it.

    Going by definition Aptitude is the natural ability to do something. Our aptitude is shaped over a period of time and is affected by a lot of factors around us. The good thing is that we cannot fail an aptitude test. It’s just that we are measured against a benchmark to see our suitability for the role. Achieving the aptitude levels expected in the most sought after MBA programs does require burning some mid night oil and demands good preparation. During our preparation phase, what we need is the right strategy that rationally budgets our time and resources in the best possible way.

    This shall be achieved through three simple phases, AIM

    1.    Analyze the test

    2.    Identify your strengths & weakness.

    3.    Manage

    The AIM steps ensure that, we bring in a rational approach to our preparation plan. It helps us to take more pragmatic and analytical decisions (which are based on numbers and data) and hence it is easy to track and evaluate the progress.

    AIM : Analyze the test

    There is no fun in writing a test if we don’t know what is been tested. So the natural question that follows is what is being tested through an Aptitude test? Through an aptitude exam, the examiner wants to understand the quality of our natural abilities to perform a certain kind of work at a certain level or position. Let’s understand how an aptitude test achieves these three objectives.

    1. Certain Kind of work

    Individuals differ from one another in their ability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, to engage in various forms of reasoning, to overcome obstacles by taking thought. Although these individual differences can be substantial, they are never entirely consistent: a given person's intellectual performance will vary on different occasions, in different domains, as judged by different criteria. Concepts of intelligence are attempts to clarify and organize this complex set of phenomena. (From "Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns”)

    There are two types of intelligence, Fluid intelligence & Crystallized intelligence.

    Fluid intelligence is the capacity to think logically and solve problems in unfamiliar situations. It is the ability to analyze problems, identify patterns and relationships that underpin these problems and to extrapolate them using logic.

    Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use skills, knowledge, and experience. This type of intelligence is based upon facts and rooted in experiences. As we age and accumulate new knowledge and understanding, crystallized intelligence becomes stronger. Our vocabulary is an example of our crystallized intelligence.

    A typical aptitude test gauges both types of intelligence. We might need to rely on fluid intelligence to come up with a strategy to solve a problem, while we must also employ crystallized intelligence to recall the formulas we need to use. Classic aptitude test format consists of Quantitative analysis, Logical reasoning, Data interpretation and Verbal sections. The crowd that attends the test hails from various backgrounds. It will be a futile attempt to rate their qualities if the test does not give everyone a fair and unbiased platform to showcase their potential. But the good news is, by all means, it does – the tests are designed is such a way as to give everyone a fair and equal chance irrespective of their background. There is this widespread misconception that Aptitude tests are trying to identify math wizards and Riddlers. But, the fact is that, it is not. Aptitude tests are aimed to appraise some basic traits of the candidate which are imperative for the role for which he/she has applied. This is achieved through a proxy approach, wherein the test score gives certain cues that simplify decision making for the examiner.

    Candidate is evaluated on five different skill sets

    Learning Skills

    In the most essential respects,a management program invites you as a student. No matter how much a program can teach, we can take only what we can learn. Every good Institute makes sure that they take good students to their program. Aptitude test checks our learning skills by adopting the classic method, a syllabus. Syllabus for a typical aptitude test is high school level Math/English and Reasoning.  Adhering to a basic school level syllabus helps in ensuring equal opportunity to all test takers and hence facilitates a proper bench marking of performance. Spending unreasonable efforts in this area is a common pitfall that eats up a lot of preparation time. Always remember, whatever we have done as a high school student is what we ought to know and rest is Out of Syllabus. Brush up high school lessons and be good in that. That will suffice. If complex concepts appear in a paper, they are just checking whether we are intelligent enough to leave them and save our time!

    So where is the circumcenter of a right triangle? :)

    Analytical Skills

    Once in a business role, we are going to deal with lots of data. There will be a strict No Non-sense policy in data handling as lot of decisions will be based on inference drawn from these numbers.  We will also spend good amount of time in meeting rooms where bad representation of data triggers a chain reaction of useless discussions, ultimately resulting in wasting time and efforts. A Zero tolerance area! What we need is accurate data and its effective representation. That’s where all these charts and tables come to life. Comfort level with data, data analysis and data representation directly relates to your efficiency in the job. Aptitude test assesses this required competency in analytical skills through data driven sections like Quant, Data interpretation and Logical reasoning.  Aspirants who are intimidated by these sections are left with no other option but to make peace with them.  All you need to do is to brush up basic math Fundas and formulae, get a grip on the concepts and practice well.

    Language Skills:

    End of the day, all our discussions, meetings, brain storming sessions, conferences, and presentations comes down to Talking & Listening. Being able to convey what we want to and comprehend what others meant to is a key skill for a managerial role. Verbal section of aptitude test shed light towards our comfort level in using language at various levels. There is no silver bullet, but reading quality content from various topics and genres does helps to tide over this section.

    Decision making Skills:

    A combination of limited time, multiple sections, sectional cutoffs, negative marking and relative grading can push our decision making cells to its core. We have to maximize our performance by distributing efforts. We need to take the call, as what to attend and what not to attend. We cannot mess around with accuracy as well. Taken in right spirit aptitude test is nothing less than a thrilling roller coaster ride. Quality of decisions we take while picking the right questions and distributing our effort is what helps not to drop our keys in the ride.

    Specific Skills

    Depending on the flavor of the program, tailored versions of aptitude tests are used to seek the right candidates for specialized courses. Classic format shall be extended with additional sections which will focus on the candidate’s level of understanding with the particular subject.

    2. Natural abilities

    The second aspect which in an aptitude test looks at is our natural abilities. The way we shape our natural abilities is mainly psychological. In psychology, the four stages of competence relates to the states involved in the process of progressing from incompetence to competence in a skill.

    Unconscious incompetence:The individual does not understand or know how to do something and does not necessarily recognize the deficit.

    Conscious incompetence: Though the individual does not understand or know how to do something, he or she does recognize the deficit, as well as the value of addressing the deficit.

    Conscious competence: The individual understands or knows how to do something. However, there is heavy conscious involvement in executing the new skill.

    Unconscious competence: The individual has had so much practice with a skill that it has become "second nature" and can be performed easily even under challenging conditions.

    Just try and relate this to a real life example. Till some point we don’t feel the urge or need to learn how to ride a bike. Then that fine one day we realize that we don’t know how to ride a bike and we are not happy about it. So we try and take conscious efforts. We learn step by step and one fine day takes our first ride on the road. We adhere to almost every single ‘Best practices’ of driving. But after some days, it all starts coming to us naturally; we stop thinking too much and start adapting to challenges and improvising as we go.

    With this, let’s try to refine our understanding about aptitude tests. Aptitude test is trying to understand the competency level of our intelligence. If you have strong fluid and crystalline intelligence quotient as your unconscious competence, then that’s what your dream college is looking for!

    Now how can we check, whether a skill is ingrained in us, whether it comes to us naturally as a part of our nature or not? Here also aptitude test relies on the tried and tested approach. Assess your performance under Pressure. If we just know a concept it is almost certain that we will choke while using them under challenging conditions and end up wasting time or making mistakes. Aptitude test brings in this pressure not by asking tough questions. Unfortunately coaching institutes and preparation guides mislead aspirants to spend time on complicated stuffs which may not pay off compared to the efforts needed to tame them.  Always be rational in spending your preparation time. It is too precious to squander. Put your efforts into right areas and be super confident in using basic concepts. Hold on Folks, it is not easy as it looks!

    Solve the below question

    100 - 99 + 98 - 97 + 96 - 95 + 94 - 93 + ... - 3 + 2 - 1 =?

    Take your time. But do solve before you go further and give your best shot!

    Got your answer? Piece of Cake… right  :)

    Question is based on simple addition and subtraction. There is no complex concept or complicated calculation involved. We have practiced them almost every day since kindergarten. But when hundreds of thousands of test takers solve a bunch of such questions, to get into few thousands of seats; each second matters, each question matters. Pressure builds up. When we bring pressure to the equation this simple question can be so intimidating that can make us choke even while using the basic concepts. This is the secret behind our ‘Scary’ aptitude tests. Whether we can keep our presence of mind and take rational decisions while in a ‘Pressure cooker’ is all that matters.

    We can solve the above question in different methods… some given below.

    Method #1: 100 – 99 = 1, 1 + 98 = 99, 99 – 97 = 2, 2 + 96 = 98, 98 – 95 = 3 …
    Result is incremented by 1 on every two steps. Hence when we reach 1 it will be 50.

    Method #2: (100 + 98 + 96 + … 2) – (99 + 97 + … + 1)
    Two Arithmetic progressions. Find the sum. Get the difference.
    (50/2) * (200 - 98 ) – (50/2) * (198 - 98 ) = 25 * (102 – 100) = 50

    Method #3: (100) + (- 99 - 1) + (98 + 2) + (- 97- 3) + … + 50
    = 100 – 100 + 100 – 100 + … + 50 = 50

    Method #4: (100-99) + (98-97) + … + (2-1) = 1 + 1 … + 1 (50 times) = 50.

    Each method is different in terms of required time and effort. Your score is a representation of how efficiently you managed the test by spotting the right questions, choosing the best method and using them accurately under pressure.

    Try this one... It’s just addition and multiplication :)

    There is a bus with 7 girls inside, each girl has 7 bags, inside each bag, there are 7 big cats, each big cat has 7 small cats, all cats have 4 Legs each. How many legs in total?[Answer is 10990, but how much time you took to reach there?]

    Aptitude test focuses on “How we approach the question in hand” rather than “What we know”.

    3. Certain Level

    Depends totally on the program and institute we apply for. Some institutes give more emphasis for the performance in specific areas while others look for the overall distribution of score. Analyze the past trend in the institute’s selection criteria and their expectations can be derived.

    AIM : Identify your Strength & Weakness

    We saw WHAT is tested in an aptitude test and HOW it is done. Now let’s focus on the second step in AIM i.e. to identify your strengths and weakness. How can YOU leverage YOUR skills to maximize YOUR score in the test? Know Thyself!  Take a day off. Solve three previous papers. This is the best way to start your preparation regime. Even if you are not confident with the topics, just take the test. Once done, analyze your scoring pattern and try the following exercise

    Identify where you performed and where you didn’t.

    Identify the root cause of your mistakes.

    Identify the areas that can be improved significantly

    Identify where you score consistently and comfortably.

    Identify what comforts you and what challenges you.

    This data if properly analyzed can give you immense insights which shall help in pumping up your performance to new heights. An effective tool to organize your thoughts is SWOT analysis. SWOT analysis is a structured planning method used to evaluate the Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats involved in an activity. Setting your study plan shall be done after the SWOT analysis has been performed. The aim of any SWOT analysis is to identify the key internal and external factors that are important to achieving the objective.

    SWOT analysis groups key pieces of information into two main categories:

    Internal factors–strengths and weaknesses

    Strengths: characteristics that give an advantage over others

    Weaknesses: characteristics that brings disadvantage relative to others

    External factors– opportunities and threats.

    Opportunities: elements that could explore to goal’s advantage

    Threats: elements that could cause trouble for the goal

    While approaching a question in the test, always spend first few seconds in determining whether the question is an Opportunity or Threat. If you are able to identify the question as a threat, LEAVE. If you are not able to identify the question as a threat or opportunity in 10 seconds, LEAVE and COME BACK LATER.

    AIM : Manage

    Last step in AIM is to Manage. Data is useless unless acted upon. MATCH your strengths to opportunities which shall tell your competitive advantages. Apply strategies to CONVERT weaknesses to strengths and threats to opportunities. Focus on strengths which can be leveraged to your advantage. These areas will help in maximizing the score and also in overall performance. Practice more in these areas so that same performance can be achieved in lesser time. Time saved will be of great use in building a distributed score card. Take necessary actions to ensure that you are improving your weak areas up to the expected levels. Your chances are only strong as your weakest area.

    Don't be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition -- Steve Jobs

    Aptitude preparation is very subjective. Don’t go with multitude while designing YOUR preparation plan. Always listen and respect others opinions and paradigms but accept only what is good for YOU. Because when YOU decide YOUR preparation strategy it is YOU that matters. It is YOUR strength that is going to help YOU, not theirs. It is YOUR weakness that needs to be corrected, no theirs. And most importantly it is YOU who needs to act, not them.

    “Quality questions create a quality life. Successful people ask better questions, and as a result, they get better answers.” - Anthony Robbins

    While preparing, take guidance from others whenever required. But there is one aspect that we need to take very seriously while doing so. Seeking guidance with open end questions like ‘How much time should I prepare’ or ‘should I join coaching classes’ may not fetch you any useful information. Always be specific about what YOU need. ‘I am comfortable with math concepts and formulae. But my scoring pattern shows lot of negative marks especially in number systems” has more potential than ‘Please help me in quant!’ Giving specific details in your concerns will help not to step out of the question and beat around the bush. Saves time and brings the support you are asking for.

    Aptitude tests are not some monsters we fight against. Lot of hype runs in the industry about aptitude tests and MBA admissions. It is just a marketing gimmick that a ‘TIGER’ can be priced better than a ‘CAT’. If we believe in our heart that we belong to the role we aspire for, then aptitude tests are our true friends who tell us what we are good at and where we need to improve. Purpose of building strong aptitude skills shall be always a better self. If our preparation is not helping us to get better in our day to day life, we are just running a ‘CAT’ race. Mugging up word lists makes no sense if it doesn’t reflect in our communication and comprehension. Solving thousands of questions is not helping if we still jump into solutions without picking the best method. If any of our preparation activity is not adding value, SCOOT!

    Wishing you all the best… Happy Learning… Stay MBAtious!

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